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Could So-Called ‘Happy Meals’ Laws Make Eating Fast Food Less Terrible For Kids?

In both New York City and Santa Clara County, CA (known, for your purposes, as “Silicon Valley”), lawmakers are grappling with so-called “Happy Meal” bills that aim to improve the nutritional value of meals marketed to kids. The New York bill would limit meals to 500 calories and require them to include fruit, vegetables, or whole grains — because requiring all 3 is just crazy talk, apparently — and the proportion of calories from fats and sugars would be capped. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County officials last year banned toys in kids’ meals that didn’t meet similar nutritional guidelines, but are chagrined to realize that restaurants have found ways around the law. McDonalds, for example, simply charges parents a small amount for toys that used to be free, and parents pay it because how else do you stop the screaming?

According to researchers at New York University, which conducted a study into the efficacy of the proposed NYC regulations, these laws have potential positively impact kids’ health overall. They found that 98 percent of meals ordered by parents for children did not meet the criteria the Happy Meals” bill put forth. And if parents continue current purchasing patterns after the bill took effect, it would reduce sodium, calories from fat, and calories consumed by kids in these restaurants as a whole by approximately 10 percent. For the record, ordering this way for your kids will do nothing for your own gut.

Unlike the California bill, the New York City bill doesn’t tie its nutritional guidelines to toys. But lawmakers on both coasts will now face a united front: In a New York Times op-ed last week, Burger King extended the olive branch to its arch-nemesis McDonald’s, suggesting they collaborate on an uber-burger called the “McWhopper.”McDonald’s responded via Facebook that “our two could do something bigger to make a difference.” The proposal was pegged to a push to declare September 21 “World Peace Day,” and if successful then lawmakers should just call it a day. Who’s going to argue with a delicious burger that creates world peace?